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A simple and polished twin-stick shooter that toys around with gameplay tropes.

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Look, I’ll be the first person to say that I love it when my games have a little bit of gameplay depth. Give me a reason to grind for stuff and I’ll play your game for days. Sometimes, though, it’s also good to just sit back and blow shit up. That’s the experience Two Tribes’ RIVE is offering, and after years of RPG mechanics and leveling up it feels like a breath of fresh air.

RIVE follows a scavenger who comes across a mysterious ship while on the job. Exploration and looting is the name of the game, but space salvage isn’t the safest line of work, so you can expect to come across all manner of nastiness during your travels. Skill, cunning and plenty of firepower are all key to getting the loot and getting out alive.

RIVE’s gameplay is all about toying with the twin-stick shooter motif. At its most basic level, you’ve got your spider-bot, which can shoot in any direction, jump and take over certain enemies with a hacking beam. At its core this feels really good; your bot is nice and responsive and your guns feel like they have the appropriate amount of kick. Hacking enemies is a good time as well; you’ll unlock more hacking options as you progress through the game, allowing you to subvert certain enemies to regenerate health or add on some firepower. Your spiderbot can be upgraded, offering special weapons and increased health, but ammo for the special weapons can be fairly limited so you’ll want to learn how to effectively use your default machine guns as quickly as possible.

That’s the foundation for the rest of RIVE; it’s not long before the game offers areas without gravity, for instance, allowing you to move in all directions as well as dealing with enemies coming from all sides. Other areas have you riding a raft across lava, battling foes while your mobility is limited, or rushing to avoid dangerous trap lasers. The fact the game’s fundamentals are so strong is what keeps it from feeling too gimmicky. Learning what wacky situation you’ll end up in next is a big part of what keeps RIVE fresh.

It’s probably worth mentioning that RIVE is fairly difficult; the default game mode is “hard mode,” for instance, and it’s not joking. In particular, your mech doesn’t seem to have much, if any, invincibility time after taking a hit, so a dedicated swarm of enemies can drain your life and destroy you in seconds. You’re also extremely vulnerable to hazards and will bite the dust in seconds if exposed to any of the three Ls – lasers, lightning or lava. Cautious play can help, but RIVE also loves to test your twitch reflexes…so maybe some patience to restart time and time again is a more valuable skill here!

The game’s presentation is fairly well done as well. Our hero is voiced by Mark Dodson of Star Wars and Gremlins fame, meaning he sounds about as much like a space trucker as anyone would expect, there’s standard space action music and everything’s got nice, crunchy sound effects. Rive places a lot of importance on score, so the game’s many leaderboards are central to the experience and you’re encouraged to play to beat your friends.

It’s interesting playing RIVE after going through Two Tribes’ other, more puzzle-centric games. It’s also worth noting, unfortunately, that the game is billed as the studios’ last…Still, as a swan song it actually works pretty well for a studio that doesn’t have the same kind of experience making action games that others might. If you’re interested in an inexpensive, well-polished shooter, there are plenty of worse options than RIVE, so hop in that spider-bot and lock and load.

About the Author: Cory Galliher